The ‘Rubber Room’

By Anthony Rebora — October 12, 2007 1 min read
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Ever wonder where teachers go when they’re bad—or even, apparently, when they’re just accused of making a mistake? In New York at least, they go to the “Rubber Room.” According to a New York Times story by Samuel G. Freedman, the city’s Department of Education runs 12 teacher “reassignment centers”—essentially holding pens for some 760 educators awaiting rulings on termination actions brought by schools administrators. While some of the teachers assigned to the centers have been accused of assault and other crimes, Freedman says, others are there for seemingly far lesser serious reasons, such as receiving unsatisfactory evaluations or making a profane comment to a student.

The accused teachers are paid their full salaries, but must report every school day (sometimes for years) to their center, where they are prevented from doing much of anything. For security and administrative reasons, they are not allowed to leave personal belongings overnight. The “rubber room” Freedman visited had “no windows, no land phone, no Internet access, no wall decorations, not even a clock.” Though designed to hold 26 people, it was filled with more than 75 teachers. “There is a spirit of the K.G.B. about it,” says Ivan Valtchev, an art teacher from Bulgaria who has not yet received a formal letter explaining why he was terminated. “The main strategy is to destabilize the person, reduce his self-respect.”

Indeed, Freedman questions the constitutionality of the way the teachers are treated: “the stale, Spartan conditions and the absence of any physical or intellection stimulation provide a ceaseless reminder that in some respects they are guilty until proven innocent.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Web Watch blog.